*My very first thought in the immediate aftermath of Sunday's win was about Tyler Eifert, who I wrote about here, well after tweeting what I, along with many other Bengals fans, was thinking as he was carted off....
My other thoughts are far more warm and fuzzy.
*Andy Dalton's 113th career regular season start set the stage for his finest performance as a pro. This is not exaggeration, and I thought longer and harder about this than I should have before writing this. He was fantastic on Sunday, and in moments when the game hung in the balance, he was absolutely at his best. Watching his chemistry with Tyler Boyd develop has been the single most enjoyable thing about this season, and there might not have been a bigger, more emphatic Andy-to-AJ hookup than the one that put the Bengals ahead in the closing seconds.
Dalton was everything you want in a quarterback against Atlanta. Calm. Poised. Accurate. Reassuring. Clutch. And even though he's been far from perfect, the Andy Dalton I've watched through these first four games has just looked better than the Andy Dalton I watched for seven years. Extending plays. Throwing the ball with a little more zip. Hitting receivers, for the most part, in stride. Doing the small things, like doing just enough to avoid fumbling when under duress. He was red-hot early, and masterful late, authoring the signature performance of what's been a very, very strong career.
Give me this Andy Dalton for 12 more weeks, and I'll show you the quarterback of a division-winning team.
*It's worth mentioning that on the same field Mohamed Sanu excelled on against his former team, the guy who was drafted, in part, to replace him played yet another outstanding game, and made unarguably the two biggest plays of his career on the game-winning TD drive, both on fourth down. The Bengals got it right when they drafted Tyler Boyd, they got it right when they decided to move on from Brandon LaFell, and good for Boyd for becoming such an important part of this offense a year after he was seemingly lost in the shuffle, and at times, forgotten.
*I felt really, really happy for John Ross when he hauled in a 39-yard touchdown pass, or at least as good as I can feel for someone when they look like they just hurt their groin. I ripped the guy last week. I'll give it up to him this week.
*Giovani Bernard did everything. He finished runs. He caught passes. He made guys miss. He helped, big time, in pass protection. His value against the Falcons cannot be understated.
*AJ Green is a stud. You knew this already. It bears repeating. Even with Boyd making critical catches, anyone watching knew that with the game on the line, the ball was coming to AJ. It did. I cheered. Actually, I yelled some things that I can't use here. The best receivers get open and make catches when we all know the ball is coming to them. AJ Green is one of the game's best receivers.
*Bobby Hart is whatever the opposite of a stud is. You knew this already. It bears repeating. The offensive line issues weren't exclusive to Hart by any stretch, but his shortcomings were far more evident than anyone else's, and there's seemingly no end in sight to the futility of watching him look like he'd just been introduced to the sport.
*Yes, we figured on the Falcons scoring some points, and sure, the ease with which they moved the ball is emblematic of how good their offense is. They will victimize a lot of defenses this season.
That said, the Bengals were mostly awful on defense, particularly in the secondary. It felt like guys were out of position, and their corners had a very, very rough go of it. The tackling was poor on all levels of the defense, and even acknowledging that Atlanta has as good a group of wideouts as the league has, the coverage was shaky all night. Getting Vontaze Burfict back will help, but he can only do so much.
Also, roughing the passer penalties aren't even worth bringing up anymore. I guess I just brought one up though.
*Tony McCrae, keep jumping offsides, guy.
*It'd be very, very ideal to have Tyler Eifert for the rest of the season, and I'm heartbroken for him after watching him suffer what looks like a season-ending injury, But this team has barely had him over the past two seasons, with his absences in the past helping to soften the blow of the absences to come. Tyler Kroft is a capable player, and the Bengals have some wideouts that are more than capable in the red zone. Maybe it's the giddiness of an improbable win talking, but they can survive being without Eifert, even if being without him sucks something huge.
*3-1, having survived three road games in the first four, a series of injuries and second half deficits in two games they ended up winning. Six of the next eight are at home, and Dalton is playing some of his best ball. My former colleague Alan Cutler used to howl on his postgame shows on days the Bengals won that it was "a great daaaaaay to be a Bengals fan!!!!"
Indeed it is, Alan. Indeed it is.